Millennials don’t care about “gender equality” in marriage.
At least, that’s what the folks at The New York Times and plenty of its readers would have you believe, after new research found that millennial men and women were more likely to prefer the concept of the male breadwinner than their Gen X parental predecessors.
As Brad Wilcox and Samuel Sturgeon note in The Washington Post, some of this is attributable to shifting racial demographics. But not all of it. The change is also due to the emerging concept of “choice feminism,” “an ethic of equal opportunity for women in the public sphere, even as they embrace an ethic of gender specialization in the private sphere,” to quote Wilcox and Sturgeon.
As a millennial mom who shot out of adolescence as a rabid feminist and landed quite contentedly in a marriage where my husband is the breadwinner and I am the primary caregiver, I’m hardly surprised by the latest revelations. My experience—and that of almost every college-educated woman I know—suggests that my generation of women is revolting against an inherited assumption that a gender-neutral marriage is the only path to equality with our husbands.
For starters, millennial women don’t feel like we have anything to prove. We came of age in a time when women began graduating not just from college, but higher education like law school, at rates equal to if not higher than men. Many of us married men who know we could kill it raking in the billable hours, but simply choose not to do so. Our husbands respect and appreciate our choice to pull back, often for the sake our sanity and that of our families, because we’ve either observed or road-tested for ourselves what it’s like with two parents working grueling hours, or even normal hours.
Many of us also feel more comfortable embracing what Pew continues to find, decade after decade: namely, that women consistently say that part-time work is our “ideal work situation.” Millennial women seem to be asserting our autonomy against a culture that turned opportunity for women into a shackle. We read articles such as Keli Goff’s now infamous piece for The Guardian, which argued that ivy league degrees are “wasted” on women who choose to stay at home with their children, even if for a part of their lives, or the recent controversy coming out of Australia after a report argued that full-time and part-time moms were costing “potentially large losses to the economy.” And we respond by proudly choosing to persist in our preferred work-life arrangement.
The reality is that many married millennial couples with children will readily admit that two full-time working parents is not ideal for a litany of reasons, including marital happiness, individual stress, financial strain, and familial sanity. That’s not to say that lots of couples don’t make it work, but just a gander over to my city’s most-read parenting blog, and you will find plenty who will call the arrangement of two full-time parents “hell.” Many millennial women, like me, take pride in making choices that feel best for their family at that particular time.
That a rising generation of young people feels more comfortable expressing a preference for a male breadwinner is not a setback to equality in a marriage. Rather, it suggests that both millennial men and women are increasingly respectful of what it is that women want most when they have small children. I would call that a step forward for authentic marital equality. It’s only a setback to equality if we measure women in a marriage against their husbands, and not against women’s own benchmarks for happiness. And it’s only a setback for equality if we refuse to allow women to be the ones to set those benchmarks because of antiquated feminist notions about gender neutrality or because it somehow hurts the GDP’s bottom line.
That choice feminism is catching on among the future young fathers and mothers of today is a sign of progress towards a more authentic marital equality that takes into account what women especially have been saying they tend to prefer, which is to let their husbands bring home the bacon.